Improving the Health of Maine’s Children Through Nutrition and Activity

September 12, 2023

ECE provider teaching children about nutrition

Kate Fergola, a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) coordinator in Maine, teaches children about nutritious foods. She participated in many initiatives offered by Healthy Kids, Healthy Future, including the Gardening with Young Children Certificate Course and more.

From 2018 through 2023, 741 early care and education (ECE) providers who serve more than 15,100 children in Maine received support, programming, and technical assistance from the Healthy Kids, Healthy Future Technical Assistance Program (HKHF TAP), launched by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and MCD Global Health.

More than 29% of Maine's kindergarten students were classified as overweight or had obesity in 2017, according to the 2017 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey. Carrying too much weight early in a child’s life puts them at higher risk for developing chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. Studies have shown that changing policies and environments to promote healthy choices for eating and physical activity among young children can help them adopt behaviors to maintain a healthy weight.

In response, the HKHF TAP launched evidence-based strategies that promoted healthy choices for eating and physical activity in ECE sites throughout Maine. Nemours Children’s Health System provided funding, long-term technical assistance, and other resources in support of the initiative, making Maine one of 12 peer states undertaking similar work across the U.S.

”The HKHF TAP program has increased the state’s capacity to support ECEs in improving health outcomes for the children they serve,” said Dawn Littlefield-Gordon, the MCD-contracted state obesity prevention program manager for the Maine CDC. “This funding supported the development of systems and policies that will sustain future efforts for improving nutritional offerings and increasing developmentally appropriate physical activity at ECE sites in Maine."

In July 2023, as a conclusion to the program, HKHF Maine hosted the Maine Early Childhood Physical Activity Symposium that focused on teaching and engaging with early childhood educators in personal wellness and physical activity strategies. A total of 45 ECE providers who serve nearly 800 children across Maine attended the event.

One ECE provider who attended said, “Such a wonderful experience today. I have real activities to take back to my center to implement with the infants and toddlers. I liked the combination of sitting/listening with movement and participation.”

Accomplishments from the five-year program included:

  • Convening statewide stakeholder groups to develop long-term plans, provide feedback, and more;
  • Launching Go NAPSACC, an evidence-based, self-assessment tool developed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, across Maine to help ECE providers meet higher standards of physical activity and nutrition and align with national and local programs;
  • Establishing Farm to ECE in Maine where produce from local farms went to ECE sites to promote nutrition and healthy eating;
  • Strengthening technical assistance networks in Maine through Nemours Children’s Health System that offered training and professional development for technical assistance and ECE providers; and
  • Collaborating with colleagues in other states to further learn from their experiences.

“We were able to use the steps in the Go NAPSACC action plan to implement a program that included raised garden beds for our children! I love that we were able to teach kids about gardening; it’s a life lesson that keeps on giving forever and ever!” said Julie York, a childcare provider at Nurturing Roots Childcare Center.

Despite a continuous need for further improvements in children’s health, the HKHF TAP has made positive improvements over its five years in developing ECE providers’ capacities as well as the health and well-being of Maine’s children.

Learn more about Healthy Kids, Healthy Future.